Winchester (England)Winchester is an historic cathedral city in the English county of Hampshire within the South East region. Erstwhile capital of England, it was from here that Alfred the Great governed the newly unified country. Visitors appreciate Winchester first and foremost for its cathedral, but also for its other ancient buildings, its medieval centre, its markets and museums.
Winchester has a long history: there has been continuous settlement on the site for over 2,000 years.
Winchester began as a Celtic hill fort, pre-dating the Roman invasion of Britain in 43 CE. After the Roman conquest, the town grew and became known as Venta Belgarum. After prospering under Roman imperial rule for several centuries, Winchester discovered a new identity as an important Saxon city. King Alfred the Great named Winchester as the capital, first of the Kingdom of Wessex and later all of England south of the Danelaw - despite the growing importance of London, it remained so until the Norman invasion of 1066. During the Middle Ages, Winchester was renowned for its woollen goods, among other produce.
Winchester is now an attractive and peaceful cathedral city deep in the southern English countryside, close to London and Southampton.
A visitor staying in London but with a day to spare and a desire to see more of England could do much worse than simply travelling to Winchester by train (which is a pleasant way to see the Hampshire countryside) and spend the day wandering around this ancient city.
The most convenient airports for Winchester are (in order of distance):
- Southampton Airport (SOU) is a relatively small airport and serves destinations in the UK and Europe. It is about drive from Winchester via the M3 (northbound). There is a direct rail service from Southampton Airport Parkway station, which is immediately adjacent to the airport terminal building, to Winchester; four trains an hour take about 10 minutes for the journey.
- Bournemouth Airport (BOH) is a relatively small airport and serves destinations in the UK and Europe. It is about drive from Winchester via the A31 (eastbound) and the M3 (northbound). There is a regular 12-minute shuttle bus to Bournemouth rail station, where mainline trains to Winchester can be boarded, which take about 50 minutes.
- London Heathrow Airport (LHR) is about drive from Winchester via the M25 (anti-clockwise) and the M3 (southbound). It is one of largest airports in the world, with flights arriving from all major and many not-so-major international destinations. There is a RailAir coach service to Woking station, where mainline trains to Winchester can be boarded; two services an hour give a journey time of just under two hours for the whole journey. There are also direct National Express buses from Heathrow Airport Bus Station to Winchester, which take about an hour. The second option is generally cheaper and faster. See the 'By bus' section below.
- London Gatwick Airport (LGW) is about drive from Winchester via the M23 (northbound), M25 (clockwise) and M3 (southbound) motorways. By train, catch a London-bound train which stops at Clapham Junction (note that the heavily advertised Gatwick Express do not stop there) from the airport rail station, and change at Clapham Junction for a service to Winchester; two or three services an hour give a journey time of just under two hours for the whole journey.
There are couple of Winchester based taxi companies providing long distance transfers from major airports, towns, bus and rail stations to Winchester: Winchester Taxi Company, Winch Taxis, Airport Taxis Winchester and Winchester Taxi Link provide online taxi booking facilities.
- Taxi fare is approximately £75 from Heathrow, £90 from Gatwick, £120 from Luton, £20 from Southampton, £55 from Bournemouth airports.
By trainWinchester station is on the main line from London to Southampton, Bournemouth, Poole and Weymouth. It is also served by long-distance services from Reading, Oxford, Birmingham and places further north.
From London, trains to Winchester depart from London Waterloo; there are several trains an hour which take about one hour for the journey. A "cheap" day-return adult ticket between Winchester and London Waterloo is typically around £22.
Train times (from any location) can be found on the National Rail Journey Planner or by calling 08457 48 49 50 from anywhere in the UK.
Engineering works can occur, particularly at weekends. Double-check your journey with South West Trains before you travel. If engineering works are occurring, consider taking the coach instead - it may be faster than the replacement bus service offered by the train company and is invariably cheaper.
National Express operate services to Winchester from cities throughout the UK including London. Advanced ticketing is required. National Express coaches drop off in the Broadway. Megabus, which requires online pre-booking, offers cheap daily tickets to Winchester from London on the routes to Southampton and Bournemouth. The drop off location is St. Catherine's Park and Ride car park, 15 minutes' walk from the city centre.
For those with a special interest in cathedral cities, Wilts & Dorset operate the branded Cathedral Connection between Salisbury and Winchester, taking in some very attractive countryside en route. Despite its branding, this is a rural bus service (number 68) with no need for advance ticketing; it operates six times a day (M–Sa) and takes about 1 hour 30 minutes for the journey. Timetable details can be found on the website, or by telephoning 01722 336 855 from anywhere in the UK.
The town is close to the M3 motorway from London to Southampton, with the A34 providing access from the Midlands and the North. Winchester and its city centre are generally regarded as car-unfriendly; an excellent Park and Ride site is just off junction 10 of the M3 (if you are heading southbound, exit at junction 9 and follow the signs) and buses provide a link to the city centre every 10-15 min taking under 10 min for the journey. Operates M–F 7:30AM–6:30PM; Sa 8AM–6PM; no service Su; £2.70 per car (including all passengers' bus fares).
Winchester is at the western end of the South Downs Way and hikers starting out on or completing the 100-mile trail are a common sight in the city.
If you are planning to do any visiting or exploring beyond central Winchester, you will probably want to obtain a decent map of the area. You should ensure that any map you buy clearly shows the national grid reference lines, and explains how to use them, as grid references are frequently used to indicate out of town locations. The best maps for this purpose are those published by the Ordnance Survey (Britain's national mapping agency) and the following maps cover all the locations mentioned below:
- Ordnance Survey Landranger 185. This map covers the area around Winchester at a scale of 1:50000 and is best for exploration by car or cycle.
- Ordnance Survey Explorer 132. This map covers the area around Winchester at a scale of 1:25000 and is best for walking.
Most of the things to see and do in Winchester, and the places to eat, drink and sleep are within easy walking distance of each other and the rail station. There are several attractive walks in the surrounding countryside, particularly towards Twyford along the Water Meadows, and on Old Winchester Hill.
Winchester has a reasonable bus service, both within the town and to the surrounding area, although frequencies can be quite low with little service in the evenings or on Sunday.
phone: 0845-121-0180 (non-geographic number)operate most of the bus services in the city and surrounding area.
phone: +44 1202 338421operates the Bluestar 1 from the city to Southampton
phone: 0871 200 2233 (non-geographic number), +44 871 200 2233 (from outside the UK)provide an impartial online travel planner and telephone query service for all local bus services.
Winchester is quite small and a car is unlikely to be necessary for getting around. In addition, town centre parking can be difficult; if visiting for the day consider using the Park and Ride described above. Visitors with mobility problems can arrange to borrow a wheelchair or electric scooter through the Shopmobility office situated in the Brooks car park, off Friarsgate Street.
Winchester's city centre is known for its narrow pedestrian streets and overhanging medieval buildings. Besides the cathedral, the main landmark is the Statue of King Alfred the Great, first king and nominal founder England. Nearby is the Victorian Guild Hall, which hosts many events throughout the year. Also of special interest are the Pentice, a group of old shops arcaded at the front, and the Butter Cross, dating back to the 15th century and built with a tax levied on people caught eating butter during Lent. The River Itchen, a crystal clear chalk stream, flows through multiple channels in central Winchester, seemingly just to surprise visitors by its tinkling presence at every turn.
Church of St. Swithun upon Kingsgateaddress: Saint Swithun Street, SO23 9JPThis was once a not uncommon position for a place of worship in England, but St. Swithun's is the only one remaining today. The interior of this tiny church is very plain, with whitewashed walls and an unadorned wooden ceiling. Sit for a moment in the simple wooden pews and it is hard not to feel a sense of peace.
phone: +44 1962 853224address: 9 The Close, SO23 9LSA Norman cathedral begun in 1079, containing the Winchester Bible and featuring the longest Gothic nave in the world. The cathedral was built on rafts floating on a peat marsh! For 800 years the raft was able to carry the weight but, by the 19th century, the cathedral was in danger of collapse and the foundations were rebuilt by a diver working underwater; look out for the statue and story of this "Winchester Diver" if you visit. The cathedral is the venue for regular recitals and concerts, and hosts Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra's Summer Series. The famous English novelist Jane Austen died in Winchester in 1817 and is buried in the cathedral. A statue by British artist Anthony Gormley is to be found, somewhat unexpectedly, in the crypt of the cathedral. Hidden away in cathedral Close is the Dean Garnier Garden, which offers splendid views of the cathedral. Pay special attention to the stonework, and how the medieval builders suffered from problems with subsidence.
phone: +44 1962 870057address: Bridge Street, SO23 0EJOwned by the National Trust, this old water mill has been fully restored. You can visit the working areas and a rather exciting walkway under the mill almost at river level. The building also houses the Winchester Youth Hostel (see 'Sleep').
phone: +44 1962 621100address: College StreetOne of England's independent (fee-paying) schools, founded in 1382 and believed to be the oldest continuously running school in the country. Guided tours are available, lasting approximately 1 hour and include Chamber Court; the Gothic Chapel with its 14th-century vaulted roof; College Hall; the 17th-century red brick schoolroom built in the style of Christopher Wren; the original cloister.
phone: +44 1962 846476address: Castle Avenue, SO23 8PJThe only remaining part of Winchester Castle is the Great Hall, built in the 13th century by Henry III. This is the home of King Arthur's Round Table, now thought to be a fake commissioned by Henry VIII.
phone: +44 1962 854766This palace was the chief residence of the Bishops of Winchester and its extensive ruins still reflect their importance and wealth.
phone: +44 1962 878218address: St Cross Rd,The Hospital of St Cross was founded in the 1130s by Bishop Henry of Blois to accommodate thirteen poor men and is still home to 25 Brothers, whose apartments form one side of the historic quadrangle. The chapel is an unspoiled example of the period during which Norman architecture transitions into Gothic. The Hospital has a long tradition of hospitality and now offers refreshment to visitors in the restored Hundred Men's Hall. The traditional Wayfarer's Dole is still given at the Porter's Gate to all travellers who request it. Accessible by road, by a half-hour walk along the River Itchen (from City Mill; signposted), or by Solent Blue Line bus 47 (buses run twice per hour M-Sa and once per hour on Su; see Get around above for bus company details; alight at the Bell Inn). Open any reasonable hour. Free.
Museums and galleries
phone: +44 1962 869864address: High Street, SO23 9APThe other of the two surviving medieval gateways. Interesting graffiti carved into the walls and floor from its use as a debtor's prison from the 16th–18th centuries. Contains unique collection of the city's weights and measures, including the Winchester bushel and the standard yard of Henry VII's reign. Displays also include a fine ceiling from Winchester College painted to celebrate Queen Mary I and Phillip of Spain's marriage in 1554. Also armour, gibbet, leg-irons. A rooftop viewing platform gives great views down the High Street. Brass rubbing. Children's quiz.
phone: +44 1962 863064address: The Square, SO23 9ESA family-friendly council-run museum which tells the story of Winchester from the Iron Age to the present day. Multilingual audioguides and hands-on children's activities are available.
phone: +44 1962 714716address: Hazeley Rd, Twyford, SO21 1QAA preserved Edwardian water pumping station open on selected dates throughout the year where visitors can see how water was pumped by steam, diesel and electrically powered engines. There is also a set of lime kilns, water softening works, industrial railway and an extensive nature trail.
phone: +44 1962 863791address: Telegraph Way, SO21 1HZAn interactive family museum with regular activities and events. Planetarium shows are an extra charge.
Three Castles PathA 60-mile (100-km) walk from Windsor to Winchester. This walk is inspired by the journeys of King John between the two cities via the castle he built at Odiham at the time of Magna Carta, and passes through a variety of attractive scenery including parkland and forest, heath and downland, quiet streams and picturesque villages. For more information see the web site, or get a hold of a copy of the book The Three Castles Path by David Bounds and Dave Ramm ().
South Downs WayA 100-mile (160-km) bridleway running from Winchester to Eastbourne. It offers spectacular views of the South's countryside.
Parks and gardens
Abbey GroundsLocated off the Broadway between King Alfred's statue and the rear of Winchester Cathedral. These are formal gardens through which the Itchen flows, and include a children's play area.
Cathedral GroundsThe green space around the Cathedral contains part of the burial ground, and is a popular meeting spot. The main grounds are around the western entrance of the cathedral, and there is also green space on the southern side.
Fairs & festivals
Art and MindFestivals and symposia began in 2004, bringing some of the world's most eminent thinkers and artists to Winchester for events examining the way we experience music, myth, dance, film and visual art.
Winchester Chamber Music FestivalA festival of chamber music and song which takes place at the Discovery Centre every year at the end of April or beginning of May. It is presented and performed by the London Bridge Ensemble, one of Britain’s most exciting and brilliant chamber groups and is co-directed by the Ensemble's highly-acclaimed cellist, Kate Gould, who received her early music training in Winchester. There are concerts, a photographic exhibition, a masterclass, an informal sharing of work by local schools, and local restaurants hosting the festival club with discounts for ticket holders. There's also a special accommodation package at one of the local hotels. Ticket prices vary but include a Festival Pass and am allocation of free tickets for young people aged 8-22.
Winchester Hat FairBritain's longest running festival of street theatre. In a typical year, over 30,000 people flock to the city streets to watch this festival of street theatre which combines a mix of circus, clowning, outlandish performances, craft stalls, workshops and world music. First weekend in July, Th-Su (main day Saturday). Free; but expect to see lots of hats being passed around for donations (hence the name).
Winchester Cycle FairHeld in June every year - times vary - that celebrates all things cycling, including a short gentle bike ride around historic points of interest.
phone: +44 1962 847474Hire a bicycle in Winchester at BikeAbout at the Gladstone Car Park near the Railway Station. Members of the scheme can borrow a bike as many times as they like. Terms and conditions pn the Winchester Miracles website or by telephone.
Cheesefoot HeadEnjoy the splendid views around Cheesefoot Head on the off-road cycle track, unsuitable for beginners.
phone: +44 1962 840440address: Jewry St, SO23 8SB
Cathedral ShopHoused in an old Coach House 25 m from the West Front of the Cathedral, this shop offers a range of gifts, many of them unique to the cathedral.
address: Middle Brook StWinchester hosts what is reputedly the country's largest farmer's market, now every second Sunday, Middle Brook Street. The extended trading hours have eased the crowds and made it pleasant to stroll around taking advantage of free samples of local produce on offer at many stalls.
There are lots of places to eat in central Winchester, particularly in Jewry Street, the High Street and the Square, and a good way to find one is simply to keep your eyes open as you visit. The prices are best guesses for a meal including drinks & tips.
The RefectoryIn the walled garden opposite the cathedral's west front. An excellent volunteer run restaurant opposite the main entrance to the cathedral, offering a good selection of homely English dishes at reasonable prices.
Cafe Mondeaddress: 22 The Square, SO23 9EXA popular, friendly and reasonably priced contemporary cafe serving breakfasts, Fairtrade coffee and light lunches.
phone: +44 1962 849464address: God Begot House, 101 High St, SO23 9AHThis restaurant serves pizzas and pasta dishes in a relaxing, family friendly atmosphere. It is part of a nationwide chain; quality and price are set accordingly. It is in one of the oldest and most historic domestic buildings in the city.
phone: +44 1962 841845address: 1 Bridge Street, SO23 9BHSimilar to Ask Pizza and Pasta; maybe slightly closer to an Italian style. Again, part of a chain so quality and price are set accordingly. The restaurant is literally on top of the bridge and the old house radiates a nice atmosphere.
phone: +44 1962 872930address: 18 Jewry Street, SO23 8RZThis chain restaurant provides excellent (and apparently eco-friendly) seafood in an attractive environment in the city center.
phone: +44 1962 863838address: 5 Bridge St, SO23 0HNNo.5 Bridge Street is a pub/bar & restaurant in Winchester City Centre. Open 7 days a week for breakfast, lunch & dinner. The restaurant’s menu is seasonal & dishes are freshly prepared. The menu is of British influence, based around 1 or 2 central ingredients, with a superb selection of market plates & charcuterie items.
phone: +44 1962 851555address: 1 Chesil St, SO23 0HUThis Grade II listed building was built in 1450, given to the city by Mary Tudor, and now holds the Chesil Rectory, which received a Michelin star in the early 2000s. The restaurant is a member of the Hampshire Fare group, who strive to use local producers for their supplies.
phone: +44 1962 844465address: 88 Chesil St, SO23 0HXThis restaurant serves high quality 'Modern British' food with locally produced ingredients. It is a few minutes from the main high street in what was once a pub. In 2011 the Black Rat was awarded a Michelin star.
phone: +44 1962 841414address: 14 Southgate St, SO23 9EFA town-house bistro in the centre of Winchester, popular with locals and visitors. See also 'Sleep' below.
England is known for its public houses, and Winchester - being the ancient heart of England - is no exception. Winchester has a good selection of city centre pubs, many of which are noted in the Real Ale bible 'The Good Beer Guide', and a few that are worth taking a stroll and the time to discover.
This plethora of pubs means that Winchester is not saturated with one type of beer. It is in the enviable position that there are many brewers represented in the city. Although the best approach is to wander around and to go into the one you like the look of, there are a few that may not reveal their delights until you venture inside.
phone: +44 1962 861754address: 1 Wharf Hill, SO23 9NPTucked away on Wharf Hill, off Chesil Street, the pub is still faithful to its origins. Although recognised in most of the well known beer and pub guides, it is still a traditional back-street boozer.
address: 25 The Square, SO23 9EXOpposite Winchester Museum, a small cozy pub with colourful characters and a spooky history of hangings and gibbets. Very good value pub food and good quality real ales always available.
address: 8 Great Minster St, SO23 9HAOn the Square near to the cathedral entrance, this pub offers a surprisingly good selection of real ales although seating can be at a premium and it gives the impression that it would rather be a bistro than a pub.
phone: +44 1962 855111address: 1 High St, SO23 9JXA modern-style pub set in an old building, reasonable selection of drink and moderately-priced food. Very pleasant (especially in the summer, although it can get very busy) patio area by the river.
phone: +44 1962 850095address: 11-11a Jewry St, SO23 8RZWell stocked ales in the citys original prisons governors building, masses of local history adorn the walls - worth a wander with a well earned refresher, pub grub all day.
phone: +44 1962 881870address: 65 Harestock Road, SO22 6NXHarestock Lodge Hotel in Winchester exudes charm offering friendly and relaxed accommodation in Hampshire, critically acclaimed dining and 17 en-suite rooms.
There are many different places to sleep in Winchester. The following can only be a set of suggestions. The prices quoted may be negotiable.
Wykeham Armsphone: +44 1962 853834address: 75 Kingsgate StA well-run, well-regarded pub near the Cathedral and College, with 14 comfortable bedrooms. £90-120 (double room including breakfast).
phone: +44 1962 841414address: 14 Southgate StHoused in an attractive city centre Queen Anne townhouse, the Hotel du Vin has 23 cosy bedrooms. The best rooms overlook the hotel garden. See also 'Eat' above.
phone: +44 1962 840840St. Peter St. Built as a private residence in the mid-16th century, it has served as a bishop's house, a Benedictine convent and, since 1857, a hotel. The hotel is close to the cathedral.
phone: 0800 400 9090 (domestic)address: Paternoster RowA functional hotel built in the 1970s adjacent to the cathedral, with 91 bedrooms.
Cathedral CottageSingle room available, very hospitable, within shouting distance of the cathedral and some wonderful pubs. Room very clean and well provisioned. Top notch English and continental breakfast served next day. Well kept garden and incredibly quiet.
phone: +44 7501 458590address: Telegraph Way, Morn Hill, Winchester, SO21 1HZ141 stylish rooms on offer and also offers meeting rooms for hire.
phone: +44 1962 776204address: Home Lane, SparsholtA friendly and welcoming 4-star bed & breakfast near Winchester, in the leafy village of Sparsholt. Offers 3 comfortable rooms.
TelephoneWinchester's area code is 01962 when dialed from within the UK or +44 1962 from outside the UK.
- Mid-Hants Railway, The Railway Station, Alresford (5 miles east of Winchester on the A31; grid reference SU587324). Often known as the Watercress Line, this preserved steam railway follows the route of an old line from Alresford to Alton.
- Marwell Zoological Park, Colden Common (6 miles south-east of Winchester on the B2177; grid reference SU506217), near Eastleigh.
- Visit the New Forest, about half an hours drive or a short through train journey away.